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Sample Sunday: Iris Murdoch, Pat Barker, Margaret Drabble

This week’s candidates for Sample Sunday are all novels by female authors that could be considered “grand dames” of British fiction. I’ve had all three books on my “to read” shelves for more than five years so in keeping with my 9 step plan to tackle my mountain of unread books it’s time to decide if I really want them any longer.

Border Crossing by Pat Barker

I think I bought this on the strength of Barker’s Regeneration trilogy but this is a completely different kind of novel. I’ve seen it described as “an unflinching novel of darkness, evil and society.” Its main character is a boy who at the age of 10 was convicted of a chillingly heartless murder. Now 23, he is released from prison. He feels betrayed by the child psychologist whose testimony at his trial, ensured his imprisonment and wants answers.

The Verdict: Keep. I’m intrigued by the psychology of the relationship between these two characters.

Black Prince by Iris Murdoch

This was Murdoch’s 15th novel.It’s about an unsuccessful novelist in his late fifties who leaves his dull office job as an Inspector of Taxes. He hopes to retire to the country, but predatory friends and relations dash his hopes of a peaceful retirement. 

I have a feeling I tried to read this once many years ago but didn’t get far into it. I’ve had a patchy experience with Murdoch, struggling with most of the books by her that I’ve bought over the years (the one exception being The Sea The Sea) but The Black Prince is considered one of the best books she wrote.

The Verdict: Undecided. If you’ve read this, help me make up my mind.

Pure Gold Baby by Margaret Drabble

Over her 50-year career as a writer, Margaret Drabble has written twenty novels plus a host of non-fiction books. I’ve not read even one of them. This tale of a single mother of a child with learning difficulties in the Hampstead suburb of London in the 1960s, was published in 2013 after a seven year gap. Several reviews I’ve read haven’t won me over. The plot “wavers confusingly and there is a lot of repetition” said one reviewer. Another pointed out how Drabble includes several learned digressions on everything from RD Laing to urban redevelopment.

The Verdict: Release

What do you think of the decisions I’ve reached? If you’ve read any of these books I’d love to hear from you.

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